I found out about the death of my friend and advisor Brian Booth while I was in the final stages of sending this issue of Oregon Humanities to press. I first befriended Brian when he served on the board of Oregon Humanities in the early 2000s, but our paths crossed often in the years that followed, and I was always glad to spend time with him.
Whenever I saw him, either in a prearranged meeting or in an impromptu exchange on the street, he always gave me a quick rundown of what he thought of the most recent issue of the magazine. Like a good advisor, his critique included incisive suggestions for improvement—“You need to run more about Oregon history and Oregon people”—as well as generous praise and encouragement—“That magazine is really shaping up. You're doing fine work.”
I think he would have approved of this issue of the magazine because, more than anything, Brian loved Oregon—as is so clear from his affiliations and board memberships, which ran the gamut of parks and literature, of art and education—and this issue, perhaps more than any other I've edited, is steeped in Oregon.
The stories in the following pages roam our broad, beautiful state, from the coastal river Monica Drake has visited each summer for decades, to the Central Oregon stone towers that nurture Dionisia Morales, to the boom-and-bust timber towns of Tara Rae Miner's childhood. They also traverse our state's psyche and identity, from Carl Abbott's secessionist imaginings of the Pacific Northwest, to Eric Gold's collection of visuals that tell compelling Oregon stories, to Wendy Willis's pondering of that familiar question, “Where are you from?” All of these pieces explore what it means for us to be here, together, in this place, at this time.
While thinking about Brian and readying the magazine for press, I've had in my mind the lines of William Stafford's poem “Answerers,” which doesn't so much conjure a geographic place as suggest a way of living in the world, of being receptive and present, of being here now. Like all beloved poems, this one reveals itself to me anew whenever my subconscious summons it.
As with past readings, I was drawn to the last few lines: “we become rooms for whatever almost / is. It speaks in us, trying. And even if / only by a note like this, we answer.” In the past, I'd read this poem as a call to action for storytellers and dreamers. But here now, with Brian and this issue so much on my mind, I think of it as both a call to action for all of us who love, worry, and wonder about the places we inhabit, and an homage to the people who—at least for a lucky and too-brief stretch of time—love, worry, and wonder alongside us.
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